Friday, February 29, 2008

Reporting LIVE! from the Whidbey Island Writers Conference

Each year the Whidbey Island Writers Association presents a writers conference. Read the list of agents, publishers, and authors who are presenting here and be amazed.

Here for the first time, I feel giddy with creative joy and excited like a little kid at Legoland. Two and a half days surrounded by real writers. Real editors. Real people who work in publishing and are looking for new ideas, new book topics, or the next James Frey J.K. Rowling.

Yesterday I met one of the keynote speakers, Erik Larson. (Met means I bought one of his books and asked him to sign it for D.) Erik is an author of non-fiction books about historical events and the people involved in them, who caused or tried to prevent them, or whose actions changed the course of our lives. I greatly admire his work and was looking forward to meeting him, if only for a moment. And in that 30-second exchange, I revealed that I am, clearly, one of the world’s biggest dorks.

Me: “Hi, I’m Claire.” I shake his extended hand, hand him the book to sign. “My husband read this in a couple of days, and raved about it for a couple of months. I’m reading Thunderstruck now. I’m learning so much. It makes me feel smart!”

Erik Larson: “I was hoping to stir your passion, not make you feel smart!”

Me, Dork: “Oh, well, I haven’t gotten to that part yet.” I smile my most clueless smile, turn, walk away, and know that inside, Erik Larson is regretting, just a little bit, that he agreed to do this conference. At least he sold some dork another book.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

High Tea It’s Not

Overheard at the breakfast table:

“Get off the dining room table!”


“Get your ass out of my breakfast! I don’t put my ass in your breakfast!”


Mad class in my house.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Motivating Factor

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

D. made this for me. I think I'll have a print made, frame it, and hang it in my "Room of One's Own". When I actually have one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No Good News Today

The little boy lost is apparently gone now.

My heart has been broken for this boy and his family. Thank you, dear readers, for caring about this sweet little one. While none of us know them, they are a part of the larger family we share by inhabiting this earth together on this day in this time. And a loss like this touches many.

Sometimes the unthinkable is unavoidable. Is it possible to hold your little ones any closer?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Can't Stop Thinking About William

A precious little boy from our town is missing. He's been missing since Friday from a rocky shoreline on Vancouver Island. Little William was with his parents, on the beach, and he just disappeared.

He's the same age as Anna--my most favorite, adored, precocious niece. And our godson, Jake, is seven too. He's the same age as all the seven year old little boys and girls, and you know that's such a lovely, sweet age. He's only seven, and he's in big trouble.

I imagine all of his little friends are missing him, too, at the Montessori school that sits high up on the hill so the kids can see the bay and the islands beyond.

His parents must be experiencing the most horrifying type of anguish. His aunts and uncles and grandparents are likely worried beyond belief. His teachers, schoolmates and their parents are probably sick at heart. His community here, and the amazing people on Vancouver Island who have been searching for days are hopeful and numb at the same time.

Won't you send the family some good thoughts today? If you're the praying kind, then as many as you can muster would probably help, too.

I won't stop thinking about William today.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's Valentine's Day

This morning, D. and I were out walking our dog. This is an unusual event, in that D. does not voluntarily get out of bed when it is still dark out. But today, he wanted to join my friend and me on our Tues/Thurs trail walk. After we parted ways with our friend and headed back, we passed a house with a balloon-covered car in front. A huge heart balloon and several red and white balloons surrounded a hand-written message: your the best thing that ever happened to me. As D. was awwwwwing and smiling, I just had to mention that it was too bad his or her admirer couldn't spell. But then I succumbed to the sweetness and said, "Wow. Isn't it nice that someone thinks that about that person?" D. put his arm around me and said, "I think that about you."

Me too, honey. Me too. You are the best thing that ever happened to me.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Blizzard, A Mountain, and Me

I have returned—completely unscathed—from that exotic, exciting world known as skiing. For the uninitiated, skiing is a popular activity for which you get to dress interestingly. First, you don tight, every-bulge-revealing underwear, plus as many layers of fleece and down that you can pile on your body. Then you shove your feet and calves into heavy, bloodflow-restricting, stiff, uncomfortable, unfashionable boots, grab these things called poles (and I don’t mean the people) and clamp long skinny skis onto the boots. This ensures that you a) cannot manage anything closely resembling a human walk and b) will immediately fall over sideways, relying on the kindness of strangers or young children to right yourself.

Once properly equipped, you stagger and skid your way to the chair lift, a most enjoyable place where you get to humiliate yourself before spectators of all ages. You stand, legs shoulder-width apart, poles in one hand (to ensure that if you lose your balance, you will again fall sideways and require assistance), and wait for the chair to swing around and smack you in the back of your thighs, knocking you off your feet so your bum is planted precariously on the chair while it is still moving. Then, you get to ride up the side of a hugenormous mountain, clinging to the bars of this most dangly open-air bench, out of which you could tumble with the slightest puff of wind—or a decent sneeze.

If you’re me, you have the added enjoyment of riding up the chair lift alone. How did that happen to the girl who was a bit terrified at the prospect of riding up the lift at all? One moment, there we were, D. and I, in line together, side by side, waiting for the proper moment to advance up to take our places. An empty chair went by, and then it was our turn. I dutifully waddled to the correct waiting spot and was immediately thumped in the back of my thighs and whisked up, skis and boots over my head, desperately attempting to hang onto the chair while I settled my feet back down below my knees, suddenly realizing I was doing all of this completely alone. I turned around (without falling off! yay!) to see dear husband gracefully landing on the next chair.

There was no turning back. The lift does not run in reverse. Anxiety tried to set in; I pushed it away. Alrighty, then, you can do this, I thought. I whistled a happy tune, pretended I was comfortable, and looked everywhere but down. Instead, I gazed far off to the horizon—which in the whipping wind and blowing snow was oh, about 25 feet. Squinting through my cool new amber goggles, I focused on gentle white meringue slopes and the green tops of trees poking out of freshly fallen snow. Tops of trees? Dear jebus. . . save me from this day. I don't WANT to be on the tops of trees!

As I approached the end of the lift, I readied myself to disembark. Off I went, upright and on two skis. That went well! I thought, as I glided about ten feet—and fell down. D. was soon beside me, helped me up, and away down the hill we went. It was fun, it was scary, and skiing very slowly, I made it back to the lodge in one piece. And I even went up for a second run. And again I jumped onto the first chair that came along while D. waited for the next. Was he trying to tell me something?

Despite wind and heavy snow, two sore knees and shinsplints from dragging those monstrous boots around for hours, it was a successful day. While it’s not like I can’t wait to do it again, I am looking forward to getting better at skiing.

Honestly, I think the fear of being cold was my biggest roadblock. I am your witness: it is amazing how $175 worth of long underwear, wool socks, and fleece will warm a girl’s soul. And how a few hours on a mountain top will make it sing.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

It's Ski Day--Hooray! (I think)

This is me in about two hours.

I have only skiied once in my life, in Virginia, about eight years ago.

Keep me in your thoughts today, please, dear friends, that I may return unscathed.

Photo originally published by the Archives of Ontario

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Second Job

When I turned sixteen, I qualified for the two rights of passage I yearned for: a driver’s permit and a real job. The desire to learn how to drive, I understand. But why I was in such a hurry to join the ranks of the working stiffs, I can only ponder. I suppose my main interest was getting out of the house and out of my dad’s way. I constantly rankled him, and he was pretty much pissed off at me for about seven years or so. So, a part-time job that occupied the hours of 6-10 pm sounded pretty choice (this was the late seventies, you know).

I applied for a job at only one place, in the grocery industry—the other traditional career route in my family (the first being the newspaper industry). My dad, you see, was a grocer for the first twenty-something years of his adult-type married life, and a butcher for the remainder of his working days. My older brothers and sisters helped out around his small neighborhood grocery store, the one a few miles from our house that Dad opened after his first store, a block from our house, burned to the ground one horrible night. It was the first time I ever saw Mom cry one of my older sisters remembers. I was a year old. By the time I was old enough to help bag apples (how do you think they got into the bags?) or sweep the warped oak floors, Dad decided that the larger chain stores were a real threat to the neighborhood stores—and he converted his into a Laundromat. Smart guy, my dad.

But this is about me. I’m sixteen, and I’m ready for my first interview at Tops Friendly Market. I meet the small, eyeglassed and balding manager in his tiny, dark little domain of power behind the cash office. I’m extremely nervous, and figure I have a snowball’s chance in hell of being hired to be a real grocery store cashier (low self-worth, anyone?). But the manager is impressed by my work history. He is even more impressed by my personal reference: Mr. B., our next-door-neighbor and all-around good citizen, who was a bank manager back in the day when they wore suits, topcoats, and hats to work every day, and were held in the highest esteem. (Side note: I was happy to visit Mr. B. just last November. He is eighty-nine.)

I was hired and started my career. I remember my first day of training, when the front-end manager introduced me to the expression, “I don’t get mad, I get even.” I spent days wondering what she really meant by that. But she was a toughie, no doubt about it. She scared me, and I stayed out of her way. With a little practice, I soon became a very good cashier. No scanning bar codes back then, oh no. We had to read the price and punch in the numbers, attributing each item to meat, produce, frozen foods, or miscellaneous as we went. I was a veritable machine, grabbing item after item from the cart, placing it on the conveyor belt with one hand, while accurately punching in numbers with the other. Fast as lighting. I was that good. My failure as a paper girl was soon a distant memory.

Tops Friendly Market was an odd little segment of society. Aside from the wide variety of personality types in our customers, the people who worked there were a little different than I had encountered in my sheltered world. They were a little more crass, a little more permed, teased, sprayed and Camaro driving than I was used to. I liked them. Once I felt comfortable, I wandered to the break room to chat with the other women, usually older than me and much more aware of the world. I started bumming a cigarette here and there, to fit in, to have something to do on break. I started making friends among the red polyester smocked and vested community; even took on a van-driving boyfriend, much to the horror of my parents. He was a real loser, but I thought he was pretty much the best I could do. The jocks weren’t lining up outside the door, you know?

I used to go out after work with a guy named Troy. He was cute and I had a real crush on him. We’d get some beer after work, and sit in his car, drinking and listening to Lynard Skynard. We’d flirt some and make out, even though he had a girlfriend. I was one of those girls, apparently. I was in his car one night, in front of my house as he was dropping me off, when the radio announcer told the world that John Lennon was dead. That’s why I remember Troy.

Back at Tops Friendly Market, I eventually ended up switching to the produce department. It was more solitary work, interacting with the iceberg and parsley instead of the drunks and yuppies. I had time to think, and hum, while I was making piles of oranges and weighing bags of broccoli crowns. I was usually the only one in the department in the evenings. All alone and isolated from the rest of the store.

All that stretching, reaching for the top of the apple display. Plenty of bending over, sweeping up the celery fronds. The quiet nights when very few customers would wander through the department. Ample opportunity for a predator, otherwise known as the store security guard, (you know, someone to be TRUSTED) to graze a bustline or a hip, and to say the inappropriate things that only confused a young woman into wondering if she should be flattered—or frightened. And so she said nothing at all.

That was my second job. And my first experience with sexual harassment. Little did I know how many more were to come.
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